The 2013 OWFI Conference – Part 2, The Poetry Slam

It is rather unusual for a writer’s conference to have a poetry slam. After all, this is where agents and editors and publishers and writers of all levels come to network and socialize and learn to perfect their craft. It is not a place for a competition for performance poetry. This is one reason why the notion of the first ever poetry slam at the 45th OWFI conference intrigued me.

I had done slam poetry back in Boston for roughly four years from 1990 to 1994. I was unusual, doing rhymed and metered verse and competing against urban angst and social consciousness. But I figured back then that it was largely about performance so I had a shot. And I had a small degree of success. But it had been 19 years and I really don’t write poetry much nowadays, so I was living on faded glory. Here was my opportunity. Despite all the trepidation, I felt certain I would win.

Originally we were told that seven or eight people had signed up. Fine by me. It was being moderated by Mendy Knott, a poet and one of the speakers at the conference. She was going to select judges, instruct them in the finer points of what a poetry slam was and how to judge them, do a warm-up poem to give them the idea, and then let them do their thing. Of the original contestants, there was a young girl named Molly, who had just graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in creative writing and who had taken seminars with Danny Solis, a slam poet who I had the good fortune to know and watch and listen to back in Boston. Molly was well prepared in both good poetry and performance. The other person I became worried about was Amy Shojai. With her theater background, she was reading lyrics from a forthcoming musical and presenting beautifully.

I started with my signature piece, “A Special Kind of Love”, a Shakespearean-styled S&M poem. There are no bad words in it, only the implication of a different kind of fun and games. It’s the piece that earned me the nickname “The Bard of Boston.” But my scores were low: 25 out of 30. An elderly woman who read from the paper behind the podium and did not gesticulate got higher scores than me. So, I’m thinking it’s the subject matter. Because, after all, Oklahoma is not Boston.

photo (3)Photo courtesy of Mike Watson

Fortunately, the judges did not pay attention to the moderator to use decimal points in their judging. It was because of that a couple of us were tied with 25 points and I snuck into the next round. The next piece was also whimsical but far less troublesome. It was entitled “A Repentant Sinner Arrives in Heaven” but in the end it, too, was of questionable subject matter. The speaker decides that Heaven is not for him and “besides, they serve hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in Hell.” Well, that didn’t go over quite well either. I was beginning to notice that two of the three judges were elderly ladies and one was a lot hipper. If it weren’t for her, I would have been booted out of the entire conference.

So, I’m there in the final round. I’ve only got one piece left and fortunately it’s not comical. It’s a sober dissertation on megalomania entitled “The Last Diary Entry of G.A. Custer, dated June 24, 1876.” For this piece, there was an added bonus: I let my hair down. I was bold and brave and modulated my voice correctly for the greatest impact. I went third out of five. All three judges scored me in the 9+ range. After all, there was no sex and no religious defamation.

I was adding things up in my head as the last two went on and knew that my prediction had come true: I had won. I was the first ever OWFI Conference Poetry Slam Champion.

photo (2)Photo courtesy of Mike Watson

I’m not 100% sure they’ll ever have one again. I hope they do because this was an opportunity for poets to show their stuff.

After the slam, after some heartfelt congratulations and admiration for the other contestants, I headed down to the bar for a congratulatory martini. I walked alongside the two elderly ladies who described themselves as former poetry and English teachers and, in an almost apologetic manner, indicated that the first two pieces just weren’t to their taste. I respectfully accepted their comments. In spite of their personal preferences, I had won. It’s a testament to the obstacles that all writers face.



  1. Judy said,

    May 8, 2013 at 3:38 am

    Wonderful! So happy to hear this! Awards give us fuel to keep on growing. 🙂 A pat on the back tht we’re doing something right. Love it.


  2. May 9, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    […] The 2013 OWFI Conference – Part 2, The Poetry Slam ( […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: